R. S. Brooke— Dundas’ First Photographic Images
by Stan Nowak
This article was first published October 10th, 2003 in the Dundas Star News
Reproduced with permission of the author.
Back in the 1850s, King Street was a mud road, and there were hitching posts along the board sidewalks. ‘The Checkered Grocery’ (today’s Char-broil Restaurant) at King Street and Miller’s Lane was a dominant downtown feature with its unique wall pattern.
Can you just imagine it? Well, you can do more than just imagine it—you can see it. On a fine day in 1856, a gentleman stood on the corner of King Street and Sydenham Road, looked east towards Hamilton, and did a remarkable thing—he took a photograph. That photograph, taken by R.S. Brooke, is acknowledged as one of the earliest, if not the earliest known photographs of our town.
Brooke was the first photographer to set up shop in Dundas. What he photographed in 1856, and for over thirty years afterward, is recorded for posterity in our historical periodicals, local museum, library, and some local businesses (like the Collins F&B Warehouse).
“He was the first to introduce the ambrotype to this part of the province” (Dundas True Banner: January 24, 1862). An ambrotype was a less expensive alternative to the daguerreotype, and it became the dominant form of photographic portraiture in the 1850s. Basically, it is an underexposed negative on glass, that was mounted on a black background to give a positive illusion. By 1862, he was working with both ambrotype and photographs.
Richard Sarly Brooke was born in 1828, Yorkshire, England. He arrived in Dundas in 1855 after military service in South Africa. He billed himself as a ‘photographic artist’ from 1856–1887. His studio—”R.S. Brooke’s Portrait Rooms”—was on the north side of King Street, just three doors east of Sydenham Road, although some advertising of the time lists his location right at the corner of King and Sydenham, where the Bank of Montreal is situated today.
From 1887–1896, he was a manufacturer of nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’, which he claimed to have invented, but this is highly unlikely, since the uses of nitrous oxide are documented well before Mr. Brooke’s time.
During his lifetime, he also sold sewing machines for the New England Sewing Machine
Company, and was an optometrist’s assistant. Mr. Brooke died on September 28, 1896 and is buried, with his wife Elizabeth, in Grove Cemetery. His legacy is the photographic record which captures the early images of Dundas from less than a decade after town incorporation to twenty years after Confederation.
From Dave MacDougall
I have been active in the Dundas Valley Historical Society since its inception in 2004. Now five power point presentations later, Newsletter editor from 2009 to 2016, two years as membership secretary and finally as the dundashistory.ca website administrator from 2015 to 2019, I am retiring.
Over the next couple of months, the site will evolve to the Dundas Valley Historical Society which will formally assume responsibility. I am pleased that the new webmaster will bring fresh ideas and new skills to the role that will build on the foundation that I, actively supported by my grandchildren, created.
Yes, I know that this picture is a few years old. Would you prefer my passport picture which looks like a member of the ill-fated Franklin expedition interred in permafrost?
The Barretts of Sydenham Street
“I believe the two ladies standing on the front porch are Francis Ann Barrett (nee Chamberlain) my Grandmother Barrett) and Fanny Barrett (Francis’ Mother-in-law), my Great Grandmother whose husband built 97 Sydenham St. next door.”*
Editor’s notes: At the time of the 1911 census, Thomas (b. 1879) lived at 99 Sydenham with his wife Frances (nee Chamberlain).
His father, Fred Barrett (b. 1857) and his wife, Frances (Fanny) Barrett nee Lackyer (b.1859) lived at 97 Sydenham with their other son, William b. 1880 and their daughter Winnifred (Minnie.) b. 1896 Both houses were built in 1908.
The black skirt and white blouse was popular after the First World War.
“Back row, left to right are Emily, Tom and William.
Front row left to right are Fred (the father and my Great Grandfather), the youngest daughter Winnifred (Winnie) and Fannie (the mother and my Great Grandmother).
All of them immigrated to Canada in 1901 from England.”
*Jim Barrett of Ajax sent these photographs and the attached comments.
Tom, my Grandfather married Francis Ann Chamberlain in 1910 in Dundas. Editor’s note: They had two sons, Fred and Harold. Harold was born in 1916. He said that he was born in the house on the kitchen table. Except for a two year stint working in North Bay and his service in the Canadian Navy in World War Two, Harold lived in 99 Sydenham Road his entire life.
William married Laura Louise Hymers in 1921 in Thunder Bay where they had 12 children and adopted one more.
Emily married William (Willy) Wilkinson from Waterdown in 1904.
Family legend says Emily signed on to a wagon train in 1909 and headed west. She crossed the border into the U.S. at Pt. Huron in 1909. Eventually she arrived either in Los Angeles or San Diego. By this time Willy has dropped off the map somewhere between Dundas and California. Neither death notices nor divorce papers have been found.
About 1914 Emily married John Dunham from Oregon and homesteaded in North California in a town called Happy Camp in Siskiyou County. They had one son Everett who died as a teen in a swimming accident. Sally and I travelled to Happy Camp three years ago and found their homestead and a couple of people who knew Emily and John. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane.
Winnifred (Winnie) moved to Thunder Bay where she met and married Alex Welsh in 1917. They moved to British Columbia for a while and finally settled in California in either Los Angeles or San Diego.
“The parents, Fred and Fannie also relocated to Los Angeles and ended their days there.”
“My wife, Sally has provided much of the above information by virtue of her efforts on Ancestry.com. Of all of the above people, I only ever met Emily. Emily travelled to Dundas and stayed with me and my parents for a few days when I was a teenager. Even my Grandparents died before I was born in 1946.” Jim Barrett•
Trapped Overnight in Cootes Paradise!
This newspaper account coordinates well with the recent Dundas Valley Historical Society Presentation on the Desjardins Canal and the story of murder in Cootes Paradise that also ran recently in serial form in the Hamilton Spectator.
The newspaper clipping from 1953 has been published with the permission of Mr. Ray Varey of Dundas. Even though the brown tone has been removed the actual article may still be difficult to read. So, for you, I retyped the account.
Hamilton Feb,16th !953 –(Staff Special) Applying their scout and cub training three Hamilton boys survived a wet, cold night on a small isolated island in Dundas Marsh during the week end.
Douglas Varey 11, his brother Ray 9 of Cumberland Ave., and Barry Lowe 12 Holton Ave. inched their way across shell-thin ice to the mainland early Sunday after spending the night on Hazelnut Island, about 100 yards from shore. It was Ray who led his older companions to safety by crawling along on his stomach and testing the ice with a penknife.
Earlier, they had pulled Raymond from the water twice when he plunged through on thin spots in the ice. Both the other boys fell in once when the ice gave way. John Varey, father of two of the boys, and six others searched from early morning for the boys.
Mr. Varey said he and his wife worried about the boys, but believed their Scout training and camping experience would enable them to return safely.
The search was started when the boys failed to return by nightfall Saturday.
For the boys it was a night of terror. They took turns singing and telling stories to keep up their spirits.
The adventure started when the boys tried to make their way off the island. Mr. Varey said, Raymond fell through the ice and had to be pulled out of ten feet of water by his companions. Darkness had fallen and unable to see their way across the treacherous ice, the lads decided to camp out.
They went to a hut maintained by the Royal Botanical Gardens, where bunks are installed, took off their wet clothing and wrapped themselves in burlap bags
Ray had the only matches and these were useless after his ducking.
Consequently there was no fire to dry their clothes.
With the early morning light the boys decided to try once again to reach safety. They found poles on the island and intended to swim with the wooden supports to the mainland. With Ray leading the way, testing the ice with his knife, they had their way slowly and painfully to shore, each getting one ducking.
Once on shore the boys made their way along the railroad tracks to the Royal Botanical Gardens field station on the Old Guelph road.
When Ray Halward answered their knock on the door, they requested permission to use his telephone. “I could see they were pretty beat,” he said “They were soaking wet and tired-looking kids. I took them down to the furnace room to warm them up and while my wife prepared cocoa, I called police and their parents. They had had nothing to eat since Saturday noon and they were very hungry.”